I am occasionally asked the question, “Why do we display the American flag in our church?”
The question may come from someone who is simply curious about the traditional practice. It may also come from someone who is seriously concerned about our confusing Christianity with nationalism. That is, in displaying the flag we may be saying that God is on our side and our side only when it comes to the nations of the world. Another way of stating this objection is to say that our Lord is bigger than any one nation; He is Lord of all nations. Or to put it still another way, we as individuals and congregations are called to go “into all the world” with the gospel, not just into the United States. Still others may object to the flag’s display as a simple confusion of church and state.
More than one pastor has stumbled into conflict by simply removing the American flag from the sanctuary. One Sunday it is there, the next Sunday it is gone. The above arguments may have been his motivation, but conversation and teaching are always best before a unilateral act which may be perceived as unpatriotic or controlling or both.
I would like to add to the conversation and teaching by presenting five good reasons for displaying the American flag in our sanctuaries. You might have guessed that I would come down in favor of such a tradition, but I do so for the following reasons:
1. Our Lutheran teaching of two kingdoms reminds us that God works His will in both the kingdom of the right, the church, and the kingdom of the left, the state. Placing the American flag in our church affirms that our God is at work in the governing of our nation, just as our God is at work in the governing of every nation (Romans 13:1). Placing the Christian flag in our church is a strong visual reminder of our two kingdoms theology. It says we are one nation “under God.”
2. The flag is a constant reminder that we are encouraged in the Scriptures to pray for our national leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), which many of our congregations do every weekend.
3. The American flag serves as reminder to everyone in worship that a crucial setting for our Christian vocation is our American citizenship. We are not just spouses, children, parents, students, and workers. We are citizens, not of every nation, but of our nation. The flag in our sanctuary keeps our calling as citizens before us.
4. The flag places before us, whenever we gather for worship, a reminder of those from our midst who are away on active military duty. Once again, it reflects our prayers for them and our hope for their safe return.
5. The flag helps us remember those who in past wars and conflicts have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It is a memorial recalling their sacrifice.
These are my thoughts on why I still love to see the American flag displayed in our churches. I understand the objections some might have to this practice. I take them as helpful cautions but not as objections strong enough to remove a flag from a place of worship. I know not everyone agrees with me. So, as always, I welcome gracious, thoughtful conversation.